Leonard Warren (1911-60) was the greatest baritone I ever heard. In the major Verdi parts no one else was close. He had everything. A voice of immense size, incomparable high notes, and a velvet control over his great instrument. He made his career at the Met, appearing at that great house 657 times between 1938 and 1960 when he died onstage in La Forza Del Destino. According to the Met’s website he expired after his aria ‘Urna Fatale del mio destino’. In the first violin part of the Concertmaster, the exact spot is marked: one measure after the Letter I, following the words Ora egli viva… e di mia man poi muoia… The cause of death is usually given as a cerebral hemorrhage, but I don’t believe an autopsy was done so that diagnosis while plausible is not 100% certain. Two thirds of his stage performances were at the Met.
Amazon is selling a 10 CD collection of Warren recordings for $14.15. The set is titled ‘Triumph and Death With Verdi’. A melodramatic and somewhat misleading description as at least a third of the music is by composers other than Verdi. Some of the disc have less than an hour of music on them, but at this price so what. The 10 CDs are taken from the commercial recording that Warren made and from several Met broadcasts. As Warren has been dead for 56 years, I assume all this material is in the public domain. Many of the great singers that Warren appeared with are included in this set. These include Zinka Milanov, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Richard Tucker, Victoria De Los Ángeles, and Renata Tebaldi among others.
Below are a few cuts from these discs. Anyone who savors great singing will want this collection. A voice like Warren’s comes along just once in a lifetime.
The piece closest to an aria in Verdi’s final opera Falstaff is Ford’s monologue E Sogno? O Realtà. This recording made in 1942 shows the young Warren’s extraordinary range and power. Lawrence Tibbett had stolen the show from Antonio Scotti’s Falstaff in the Met’s 1925 staging of the opera. By the time Warren came along Tibbett was singing Falstaff. He wouldn’t let Warren sing Ford with him saying that he wouldn’t let Warren do to him what he had done to Scotti.
Here are two versions of the Prologue from Pagliacci. The first is from a 1944 Met performance and the second from the commercial recording of the complete opera made in 1953. Si può? 1944. Si può? 1953. Whoever labelled the bands is really confused. Pagliacci is called Il Pagliacci. Two mistakes in two words is a formidable error. The opera is Pagliacci (Clowns), no Il. But if were to be called The Clowns it would be I not Il – plural not singular. No matter, Warren sounds great regardless.
Two selections from La Forza Del Destino – Solenne in quest’ora giurarmi dovete with Giuseppe Di Stefano from the 1958 studio recording of the complete opera. Then the aria and cabaletta Morir! tremenda cosa…Urna fatale del mio destino from a 1952 Met performance.
Finally, the only formal tenor-baritone duet Puccini ever wrote. It’s in the 4th act of La Boheme. The tenor is Giuseppe Di Stefano; the recording of excerpts from the opera was made in 1951. Marcello was a role Warren never sang onstage. He had too much voice for the part. In un coupé?…O Mimi, tu più non torni.